Faithful in the Middle of the Storm (a Farewell)

There are some things in life you could never see coming. Some things that you know could—will—come eventually, but ones you never expect until you’re much older. Wiser. More able to cope, or at least accept. But death is no respecter of persons, whether old or young. I just never thought it would come so soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016. 1:00 pm.

The date and time are stamped in my memory forever. That was when we found out that my oldest brother—only sixteen months younger than me—was dead. And more than that, that he appeared to have taken his own life.

Snippets of the day remain, pieces of memory that typify the day our family was turned upside down.

Mountains

Seeing a friend who works as a volunteer on the ambulance trying to get onto the radio, hearing the chatter of who knows how many other ambulance personnel (none of it as serious as our case) from all over this side of the island, trying to break through with the message—“Patient status zero. Call off all other responders.”

The incredible local volunteer fire crew, many of whom we know—some even personally. Many came out to be with us, if only for a little bit in those first dreadful hours.

Looking at the clock and knowing someone ought to call the family in the States, and soon—they’d be going to bed before too long—but knowing that you didn’t want to do it. But someone had to, someone who could still talk, so I volunteered. I hope I never have to deliver such painful news again.

The post on Facebook an hour later, asking for prayer for our family, and the instant almost overwhelming but oh-so-comforting messages that began flooding in. The bittersweet knowledge that many, many people were offering up prayers for us, for our situation—it was humbling. And so, so encouraging.

The nurses, who stayed around with us—just being there—until the police came to talk to several of us for their reports.

The friend who came as soon as she realized what had happened, providing a shoulder for Mom to cry on and just being there for us. Because she loves us. She made time in her day, even though she had a big trip to prepare for. What more could you ask of a dear friend?

One of the many dear friends of my brothers, who also came as soon as he heard…but couldn’t stay to talk, because of other things going on. Who then came back later when things had cleared a bit, and just listened and was here for us.

The many other friends that came that afternoon and evening as soon as they heard, telling us that they were praying for us, talking about now-precious memories, and overall just being a physical visible wall of support for us.

Path

The path ahead looks steep, but there’s One who has already traversed it for us. Glory to His Name!

So many snippets. So many little conversations in the midst of the murky confusion of that first and the following days as we—I—tried to come to terms with the fact that my brother was actually dead. I remember that first night clearly, as I lay down and burst into tears. “Oh, Lord, I’ve lost my brother!” And as that long night drew on, I finally asked Him—the One who knows all better than any of us could—to take it. To use it as He saw fit. And most of all, to help us heal.

Faithful. Many times, at different stages, I’ve wondered what it would be like to go through something really, really hard. I knew that I could praise God in the midst of everything going well; I often took time to do that simply because a heart of gratitude needs an outlet and I was so, so thankful. I knew I could find beauty in normal, everyday life. But I wondered if I could still do the same in the midst of heartbreak. If I could find beauty in the middle of brokenness. Well, I found out—and yes, you can! Our God is so, so faithful. Faithful to heed the tears and inward pleas from hearts torn with grief, faithful to point out simple, small blessings, faithful to be there, to be the solid rock even when the storm is raging. He is faithful.

So as I sit here tonight, just over three weeks past that initial shocking day that has changed our family forever, I’m still thankful. Thankful for the time I had with Seth, thankful for the blessing and sharpening he’s been in my life in the past, thankful for the many little memories I have of our time together. Two things stand out especially—our trip together to the US (almost exactly a year ago), and that time we went out for coffee “just because” only eight weeks ago. Both were firsts for us, and both were memory-making ventures that I will always treasure.

Sheep

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine….” (John 10:14) I love thinking of Jesus as our Shepherd, especially through times like this.

The pain? Yes, it’s still there. I’ve lost my brother, one who was probably my closest playmate in my early years. We did everything together, and still have done a lot of that even up till now. We’ve had to rearrange so many things since he’s gone—the hole in our family, in our hearts, is huge. Just the other morning I was redoing our cleaning roster, and deleting his name in order to move things around felt like deleting a part of something that has always been…and I knew would never come again. But God’s grace and love are still there, still holding us ever closer together. We can ask “why?” and “how?” all we’d like, but in the end although this wasn’t God’s original plan we know He allowed it. And by allowing it, I trust that He has a bigger, better “why” for us—all of us—in the end. We haven’t seen the completed puzzle yet.

For now, it’s taking faith and patience. Yes, we miss Seth. Terribly. But there is One who is supreme, and can—and I believe will—turn even this into something beautiful in His time. God loves us, and although we can’t understand the depth of that very well, I can testify to the fact that that has been revealed over and over throughout this whole ordeal.

Praying friends, all of you who have spent some time offering up prayers for us over this time, thank you. We still covet them—the path to healing is looking very long. Thank you for your support—we feel it. May the Lord richly bless every one of you.

Kowhai flower

The Kowhai tree out in front of my house finally started blooming—only about 2 weeks later than all other trees! Still, I’m thankful. Isn’t our Lord good?

My dear brother Seth, I miss you. You’re now gone, leaving us the chance to see how much you did for us on a daily basis. Not only that, but you’ve left us with an even deeper appreciation for each other. You meant a lot to us in your short sixteen years. I’m going to miss your love of coffee, your willingness to help with just about anything, and your determination even in the midst of difficulty. There’s so much I could say, but I won’t. Just know that I’ll always treasure the memories I have of you. You’re gone now. Gone to the God that we’ve been taught of and loved all our lives. I release you to Him—He loves you so much more than I ever could, and I have hope of seeing you again one day. Farewell, brother. Thank you for the determination you’ve left with me to love the Lord more, and to get to know His Word even better than I have before. Thanks for all you’ve taught me. Love, your oldest sister.

Good vs. Great (and Why I Don’t Like War Room)

I read great books all the time. Sometimes, it almost feels repetitive to say “this is such a great book!” because I’ve said it literally a hundred-plus times before. But the truth is—there are lots of great books out there. Yes, there are a lot of “good” ones, too. Ones that aren’t really great, but are still good and still teachable.

Often, I ponder the difference between these books. What makes one book just good and another really great? Do I judge a book as great simply because it had an adventure-filled storyline, or is it something deeper?

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Case in point: Just recently, my family and I got to watch War Room for the first time. If you’ve followed Christian news at all for the last year or so, I’m sure you’ve heard of this new movie from the Kendrick brothers. Having watched and appreciated the four previous movies, I figured this would be another great one as well. Well…I came away feeling less than impressed. The overall theme of the movie? Yes, that’s great. But the movie itself? Good, at best. Now, that isn’t the opinion of everyone in my family—praise God for different people with different strengths who can appreciate things I can’t so much!—but for me, I was disappointed to some extent.

As far as the encouragement to pray, I can go along with that 100%. I also appreciated the (whats-it-called?) cinematography—that was also well done. However, I felt like some of the things added to the movie were only there for the excitement factor (such as the jump-rope competition; yes, it was part of the story throughout, but it felt contrived). Many of the scenes felt like telling, not showing (characters just sat and yakked…which isn’t all bad AND there is some good stuff shared there, but it still was “telling”). And overall, I felt like the winning was contrived—whether it was the tension at home (wrapped up way too soon), or the bad guy being let off with a way too easy fine (considering the circumstances, he should have gotten a lot more punishment than he did), it wasn’t all that satisfying. Yes, it was good. Yes, I did mostly enjoy it in the end. But I’ve found a few bones to pick about it.

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Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Knowing that I tend to write some pretty lame fiction, I really don’t want to pass judgment on other people’s books. Maybe I’m cut out to be more of a reader than a writer, although I’m sure I’ll always secretly wish that I could be a writer too. Writing is just so fun! At the same time, though, I wonder why one book that should be great is just good. Average. Why somehow it’s failed to hit the higher point on the judgment meter, even though I know the author is a dedicated Christian who has the ability to craft amazing stories.

In rereading my review of 21 Days of Grace tonight (review will be up in about a week), I think I may have discovered a partial answer to that: The characters weren’t needy. By that I mean they didn’t desperately need an out, whatever it is. They weren’t flawed.

Is it possible that in writing Christian fiction we’re so steeped in our ideal of what Christianity should look like that we miss the fact that underneath we’re all sinners? That we’re all flawed, in some way or another? And as a result of this ideal we create people—saved or unsaved—in our stories that ultimately end up “perfect” (which, of course, isn’t possible or plausible in real life)?

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Of course, there’s got to be a balance here. We can’t glory in sin in order for characters to be flawed. And we can’t have them so flawed that it makes it unbelievable that they can ever be a true Christian. But perhaps we need to step outside of our idea of perfectionism just a little bit in order to grasp the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Perhaps once in a while we need to distance ourselves from what we know and believe is right and consider another point of view, in order to see the truth more clearly.

I’m sure there are more pieces to this puzzle that I haven’t figured out yet. There’s got to be. But maybe this is one key to work with, one reason that makes some books that should be great just good, and makes some books truly amazing.

What do you think? What are some differences that you can see between a “good” and a “great” book? Do you think we could be so blinded by our worldview that we can’t create engaging, useful stories?

He Will Be There for You

This is a mantra I’ve been chanting to myself over the past week or so. Things don’t always go as planned, and when disappointments arise I find myself asking “what, Lord? What do you want me to do in this situation? Was I assuming something wrong all along? What’s Your plan for my life—what should I be doing right now?”

This coming weekend, our homeschool group is holding their annual concert. It’s a time for families and individuals to share something—a piece of music they’ve learned, a short skit, a poem, or something along those lines. It’s a fun event, often going on for an hour and a half or more.

We first attended the concert five or six years ago. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been on stage, ready to say something to almost a hundred people, and I remember clearly the knee-shaky feeling as I stood there staring out over this group of almost-strangers. We sang four songs that time, songs that I had memorized but my brothers hadn’t had time to. It wasn’t that great, but we made it through—and what a relief to have it over with!

He’ll Be There for You 01

Being up on stage has gotten somewhat better since then. I now know almost everyone in the audience, and knowing in advance about stage fright has made it a little less frightening (funny how that works!). Still, as I prepare for another round, I often think back over the last few years. The hilarious skits we watched (or participated in), a few flunks, that time when several people were unintentionally mean…almost a microcosm of life, in some ways. There’s great, there’s bad, and as always just a bit of average. In the end, we all have an enjoyable time and are drawn together just a bit more as a group.

About two weeks ago, I picked out several songs to go along with a poem Mom suggested—What God Hath Promised by Annie Johnson Flint. We’ll be singing Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and My Ways Are Not Your Ways to go along with that.

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

I find the messages of these songs quite an irony now. Of course, I had no idea then what personal significance they would have for me, even though they’ve always been encouraging. But as I struggle with disappointment, I realize the Lord knew all along. He knew that I’d find the words strangely thrilling as I sing them over and over trying to memorize the songs.

You know, God never promised things would be easy for us. But He’s promised that whatever the trial, He’ll be with us. Sometimes, He calls us to walk with Him in the darkness, and often we can’t understand why (Psalm 22:1 would be an example). Sometimes, we can’t see Him—but by any even small examination of the Psalms, we can easily see that the Lord hears us. He understands, and more than that, He is worthy of our praise!

Consider Psalm 28:6-8, for example:

Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The Lord is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed.

He’ll Be There for You 02

Then there are other beautiful passages like Isaiah 43:2-3:

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.

Despite the pain, look to Jesus. Trust that He’s got a plan—a better plan—in place for you. You may be in the dark now, but He is your light. More than that, He understands and is more than willing to help you.

So this weekend, as we’re singing these songs and trying to be an encouragement to the dear friends who will be there, I’m praying that we will above all glorify the Lord. No matter what the future holds for any of us, He’s still there. As I was reading in Zechariah 2 this morning, He calls us “the apple of His eye” (I know, somewhat out of context…but it does apply, because just a few verses later we learn of “many nations being joined to the Lord”!).

Take courage, my friend. Stand in the strength the Lord has given you. I don’t know what you’re facing right now—perhaps, just maybe, you’re in a time of relative peace. Or maybe the devil seems to have all his guns out against you. I don’t know. But whatever is going on, know that if you’re truly following the Lord, this promise is for you: “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:29).

Jesus Never Fails

Several weeks ago, I remember sitting on my bed one morning crying out to the Lord for wisdom. A big decision lay in front of me, either choice likely to change my future. The unrest in my heart was tremendous, and all I could pray was “Lord, which way do I take?” I remember hearing a bird singing outside—one of those beautiful short melodies—and remember the disappointed feeling that washed over me as I realized I couldn’t enjoy it in that moment. I love God’s nature, I do, but at that moment the darkness was so deep that I couldn’t appreciate it the way I would have liked to.

Can you relate? I’m sure you probably can. And while situations like that aren’t fun, they’re also often a great way for the Lord to draw us closer to Him. That time was an intense time of Bible study and prayer for me, and He proved Himself faithful once again. Praise the Lord!

Violet 01

Since then, I’ve come across a few scriptures that have been a huge blessing to me.

Psalm 37:4-7

4 Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Proverbs 3:5-6

5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Hebrews 13:5-6

5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
6 So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

I’ve spent some time today getting a few reviews up on the website. This job isn’t the most interesting job ever—I’ve been known to complain to a friend before that my hands have to keep busy, but my mind isn’t needed for it! While that is not quite true, since I do have to make sure everything gets put where it needs to go, I do often have a recorded message or music playing in the background so I don’t get too bored. In times like this, I’m thankful for the entertainment and encouragement from guys like the Emmanuel Quartet. I don’t normally listen to a cappella music, but I really appreciate some of the songs in this recording. And it keeps me from going bonkers, so that’s a definite plus!

(Okay; I’ve tried to set the following video to start at the beginning of their 20-minute set, but it doesn’t appear to be cooperating. Since the entire video is 10 hours long, it apparently struggles to calculate 8 hours and 22 minutes exactly. Sorry!)

One of the songs in this set by Emmanuel Quartet (4th or 5th song, I believe) is about how Jesus never fails us…what a beautiful thought!

I took a break from the computer this afternoon, and wandered out behind my sleepout to check up on a chicken’s nest I spotted there yesterday. One of our loose hens decided to make a cozy nest under some of the tussock out there, and right now we need to keep tabs on it so we know when she starts sitting. There are currently six eggs in there, so it’ll probably be another week or so until that happens.

Eggs

We’re also expecting new chicks from another hen soon. Lambs are starting to pop up all over the place, and we have a new calf. The huge patch of violets behind my house are blooming right now. Everything’s coming alive again—any wonder that my favorite season is spring?

Violet 02

God is so good to us. On the dark days, even when you realize you’re struggling to appreciate the little things that normally give you joy, look to Him. Trust His word—whether you’re making a big decision or a minute one. He’s there watching, guiding, protecting and holding you. He loves you.

 

I’ll leave you with one final song, one that’s been a great encouragement to me lately.

Guy/Girl Relationships: An Aha! Moment

These last few days, I’ve been really wondering what a Biblical perspective for guy/girl relationships is. How are we girls supposed to treat guys? Is it possible to be friends with a guy, and yet not have to worry about coming across as romantically interested when all you intend to do is simply be a friend? For me, it hasn’t been that hard to be friends with other girls. Yes, I’m always nervous when I meet new people, and am generally pretty quiet until I get to know them better. But I’ve never really had the chance to be friends with guys, probably at least partly due to the fact that I’m always worried that I’ll come across in a different way than I intend to.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this, and while I’m sure I don’t have the entire answer yet, I think I’ve found the key to the solution.

My problem is that I’ve always imagined friendships with guys with the view of them being possible future marriage partners. Never simply as “friends”.

Guy/Girl Relationships

From what I can see, these are two completely different friendships—the one with my girlfriends is mostly about being a blessing to them, listening when they have struggles, sharing struggles of your own, being together and talking about everything under the sun. However, what I’ve always imagined in a guy’s friendship is mostly stuff centered around romance and marriage. How selfish and pointless is that?

I think what’s happened is that I’ve unconsciously bought into a lie—and I’ll explain that in a moment.

I’ve got an older friend (and I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this!) that made a bad decision in her younger years. She went against the advice of her friends and family, and many years later realized her mistake and tried to correct it. However, from what I read in the Bible, her method of correcting the situation was wrong. That fact aside, she’s since told me that in effect, you should do what you deem is right, no matter what others say. That you should follow your heart no matter what the outcome will be, instead of leading your heart.

From what I’ve heard from modern music, TV, blogs, movies, the internet, and other sources (intentionally or not), I believe this is a modern worldly view. Modern media is pushing the thought that girls’ relationships with guys (and vice versa) can never be simply friendships. It’s okay to have lots of friends in your own gender, but if you cross over into the other gender, that most likely means that you’re interested in dating or going out with them.

The sad thing is, it’s so prevalent that I have unconsciously accepted that as truth. That I can’t have simple friendships with guys without having a “purpose” behind that friendship.

This is not only a lie, but it’s dangerous. And completely unbiblical.

A pertinent verse that comes to mind on this subject is one from 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethrenThe elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” (emphasis mine)

Taken at face value, this literally means we girls should treat younger men as if they were our brothers, and for the guys to treat younger women as if they are their sisters. Note that nothing is said like “but it’s best if you’re only friends with those of your own gender.” The only stipulation is that you treat them “with all purity”. That would apply to both parties, I believe.

For me, this is revolutionary—that it is okay to simply be friends. Of course, we still have to be careful in our friendships. We still have to be aware that others may see and interpret our words and actions differently than we do. But if we keep to treating everyone “with all purity”, in Christ’s love, be sober minded (yes, I’m talking to myself), and continually commit every friendship to the Lord—whether it be within our own gender or not—we should be alright.

Oh, and sober minded? Different definitions could include self-controlled, wise, discreet, or sensible.

Here are two other helpful passages as well:

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” —1 Timothy 4:12–16

“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”—Titus 2:4–8

God’s Perfection in Mathematics

One evening about a month ago, my six-year-old brother asked a question that was designed to stump the oldest of us. “What’s fifty times fifty?” He loves starting with the hardest number to multiply that he can fathom, and then multiply that by itself, the new number by itself again, and keep going—until even the calculator groans and returns an E+, ‘Overflow’, or simply starts showing uninterpretable decimals.

Squares 01

But since fifty times fifty isn’t too big, I set it up on the whiteboard for him and gave him the answer. “Two thousand five hundred.”

“So…what’s forty times forty?”

I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went from there, but we ended up calculating several squares in the 47-52 range. After looking at the ones on the board, I suddenly wondered if there was a pattern. If we could possibly predict the next one.

472 = 2,209
482 = 2,304 (difference from 472: 95)
492 = 2,401 (difference from 482: 97)
502 = 2,500 (difference from 492: 99)
512 = 2,601 (difference from 502: 101)
522 = 2,704 (difference from 512: 103)

If there is a pattern, 532 should be 522 plus 105. It is—2,809.

After this, Mom went back to 1 and wrote down the squares of the first 12 numbers, to see if they followed the same pattern.

Squares 02

Should give you an idea of what she did. The differences are the bottom row of numbers.

They do. Each difference is precisely two numbers greater than the last one. Incredible, isn’t it? And while it’s amazing, we also realize that God has known all along and He made it that way for a reason.

So there’s your math lesson for the day. A terribly impractical, but undeniably fascinating pattern.

Grape Harvest

Well, I wrote this post a couple weeks ago and intended to add more to it later…but time has slipped away and I’ve finally decided to go ahead and publish it, even if it is a bit late. Nothing much has changed since then anyway.

During the school holidays the last week of April, we got a call saying that it was time to begin grape harvest. I first helped with the harvest five years ago, when friends of ours were managing the vineyard, and have every year since then. It hasn’t always been the easiest or most enjoyable work ever, but over the years—and the last two, especially—I think I’ve learned to enjoy it more.

Grape Harvest 01

Picking up nets

There’s just something about being outside, helping with the harvest, that is exciting. You see the fruits of your labors—all those hours in the hot sun working to take leaves off so the grapes can get some sunlight, lifting wires to help support the still-growing canes and keep them in their proper places, or putting on nets to protect them from birds—watching bins upon bins of juicy fruit come from that work is exciting. Satisfying.

And while I may not always appreciate or enjoy some of the things connected to the harvest, I love thinking of the symbolism Jesus drew between harvests and workers, vines and His church.

Grape Harvest 02

Full buckets, awaiting the tractor’s return with an empty bin.

Several times, we had to pause in our work to wait for the tractor’s return. Usually it wasn’t long; most of the time we could keep working and just piled all the available buckets.

In the spiritual world, we are all waiting for the “tractor” to come to take us home to heaven. How full will our buckets be when the tractor arrives? Will we have done our best to prepare for that event?

Grape Harvest 03

We haven’t quite finished the harvest yet—the grapes under the white nets in the picture above have not ripened nearly enough. Last we heard, the Brix (sugar content) was at 16 and it should be between 21 and 23. That means the juice is VERY sour, and will not make good wine. We’re waiting to find out whether to take the nets off and let the birds eat the grapes, or if we’ll be able to pick them after all (providing it’s warm and sunny enough to let them ripen more).

Grape Harvest 04

Learning to Love

This month, I’m participating in a study on love, based on 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve had different ideas on the topic over the years—back when I was 5 or 6 and couldn’t write much, the most common phrase in my letters was “God is love”.

Back then, those words were security to me. That is who God is. But my idea of love—God’s love—never went far beyond that. That is who God is, but I never applied it to my life as “God is love, so therefore I should be . . . .”

Learning to Love

Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2-3)

The study so far has been challenging and enlightening. Seeing how without love we are practically useless has made me wonder how love is shown in my life.

  • Am I showing love to my coworker when she offers to do the last little bit of cleaning, that can only be done by one person, and I let her do it? Especially when I know she’s tired and would rather go home to rest?
  • Am I showing love to my brother when he has an exciting experiment and I’m feeling tired and grumpy, so I tell him I’m not interested?
  • Am I showing love to my friend when I tell her of my troubles, but never care to ask her about hers?
  • Am I showing love to my neighbor when she stops by, and since I don’t really like her I take the option to duck out to my room and let Mom talk rather than carry on a conversation?

Truthfully, I have to answer no to all those questions. I’m pretty terrible at showing love. So this next week, I’m challenging myself to do at least one thing each day to show love to someone—whether it’s speak a word of encouragement, do something for someone, or simply listen to my brother’s idea and practice some patience.

This week, I want to be proactive about learning to love those around me. I do love and appreciate a lot of people, but usually that isn’t shown.

Will you join me? Can we have a positive influence on the world and the people around us this next week?

And if this aspect of love is a little easier for you than for some of us, do you have any practical tips for how to actively show our love to others?

Where This Blog is Headed

(To change things up a bit and make it easier for you, I’ll start with the conclusion so you can get the gist of why I’m writing this post—and if you don’t have time for the other 1,000-some words, you’ll still know what’s going on.)

From now on, I’m going to be writing about the stuff that I find interesting. It might be my goals for the week, it might be what we’ve been doing lately, it might be just a random thought from the morning’s Bible study. And, perhaps sometimes, I’ll share a tip or resource I’ve recently found.

I’m not going to try to write for a particular audience. It will end up being mostly applicable to homeschool students/graduates, and maybe Moms at times. I just don’t want to keep writing about something I’m not 100% interested in—there are plenty of other things in my life that I do that I’m not putting my all into, and I don’t want to have to do that with this blog as well.

Where This Blog is Headed

Alright, here’s the reasoning behind this change:

If you haven’t figured this out already, I’ll tell you now: I love to think. Therefore, a lot of what I want to share on my blog is random thoughts I’ve had. And recently while thinking about this blog, I realized something needs to change. I’ve hinted at changes several times (in February’s newsletter, and perhaps once or twice here), but as yet I haven’t come to any conclusive thoughts on the matter.

The purpose of this post today is to sort out all the thoughts I’ve had about this blog, what I don’t like about it and what I want to do in the future. If you don’t want to read it, that’s fine—I just need to process everything somewhere and this seems to be the best place to do it.

Peas

Can’t pull the pea off? Go ahead and eat it while it’s still attached to the vine–it won’t hurt you.

Before I begin, I’d like to go back to when I first started this blog. Back in May and June last year, as I was preparing to launch Learning Resource Directory, I decided I wanted something to go along with the website. Something with fresh content that was updated frequently, as opposed to the almost-static book reviews. Yes, they’re fresh and 5-7 new ones are posted a week, but they aren’t as engaging as a blog. Once posted, they’re basically static content.

I decided a blog would be the best option. Since I was interested in writing, and since writing is very involved with books, and since books are also very involved in homeschool, I decided to have a blog designed to encourage homeschoolers and writers. Purposeful Learning was created.

However, over the past few months I’ve come to realize that I’m not always thinking about or interested in writing or homeschooling. Therefore the posts I posted felt forced—I was writing about the topic of the blog, even though my heart wasn’t in it. Sometimes, there are other things that are much more interesting to me.

Salt Mountains

Mountains of salt at a factory north of us—spotted on a recent family trip.

Then I read a blog post on Noveltea. And the wheels really started turning. (Please, do read that post—I’ll try not to copy Lydia’s thoughts, but I do agree with her on every point!)

There are some things I really don’t like in different people’s blogs…and yet I write the same way myself. There are some popular guidelines that mainstream bloggers give as to how to be a successful blogger. But yet some of those are not appealing to me. From the very beginning, I wanted a way to share my life, my concerns about the world around me, and my random thoughts, in a place that people—even just one or two—could read it, be encouraged, and possibly allow that to change their lives. Or, if I have the wrong idea about something, that they could show me how I’m wrong, and I can change (Matthew 18 in action, to some extent).

Just so I can sum this up in my head, and since I have a thing for numbered lists and bullet points, here are a few things I’ve considered when mulling this topic over.

Some things I don’t like in blogs:

  • Posts that don’t resonate with me or my situation right now. A lot of advice given is to find your niche and write for that niche. However, there are some flaws in that idea—I’ll address them later. Suffice to say for now, if a blog I follow mostly shares posts that I don’t find interesting, I’ll rarely read the blog. The only reason I follow it is because I know the person and/or they sometimes share something that I find very helpful.
  • Posts that are all about the same thing. Also relating to the first point—there are some major downfalls to blogs like this. No, I’m really not interested in your book right now, no matter how much you talk about it. Does your life really completely revolve around that book?
  • Pictures that are used…and reusedI know I’m guilty of this myself, but really—I’ve already seen that picture. Yes, it’s a nice one, but don’t you take new ones on occasion?
  • Blogging just for the sake of gaining attention. I’m highly guilty of this, but I want it to change! Yes, it’s pretty obvious that the only reason you write is because you want to attract big numbers and/or attention from those in the publishing world. Sorry, but I’m not interested in being part of a fanbase like that.
Boating

Big brother taking little sis for a boat ride.

Some things I do like in blogs:

  • Posts sharing ordinary life. Ones that contain the nittie-grittiness of life, such as telling how you failed (again) at completing that goal. Of course, if you’re always failing and never ever get it right, then that can be over-the-top too, but I love hearing how you are failing and then experiencing the win with you. Pictures showing your life also are really fun.
  • Random thoughts. I love getting in other people’s heads, and when they share the random pieces of information they’ve picked up lately, I really enjoy that glimpse into their lives.
  • Goal posts or reading lately/doing lately posts. Kind of the same idea as the first point, but I love seeing what things other people are trying to achieve in their lives, and then following their progress. I also love seeing what they’re reading, listening to, etc. as well.
Split Apple Rock

Split Apple Rock, a beautiful piece of New Zealand coast north of us.

Why I think writing for a niche is faulty:

The reasoning you get is, if you write for a niche, then you’ll attract fans that are especially interested in the things that you’re interested in. People will know what they’ll get when they come to visit, which provides some reason for them to come by. They’ll know when they see your name what you represent, which provides some form of security.

While I can see the logic behind that (that is, if I’m understanding the advice right), and the value in branding yourself, I see one little problem that could potentially be huge:

What about all the other things that we’re interested in, but we can’t share because we’re trying to write for our target audience?

I explored the thought in a comment on Lydia’s post, but basically it boiled down to: We’re all three-dimensional characters. We’re all interested in a lot of different things. And it’s really hard to connect to a one-dimensional person. Maybe I should just quote my comment:

“Having a blog that doesn’t have a particular “niche” means that we share whatever comes to mind at any particular time. To say it in writing terms, our blogs become dynamic, well-rounded characters, instead of being flat one-dimensional characters. Just about everyone has their own wide range of interests, and when that is shown through the blog, we can connect a lot better. Just as we don’t connect very well to one-dimensional characters in books, we also can’t connect as well to one-dimensional blogs.”

In conclusion, I want to be genuinely me, and I think changing is the best way to do it. I’ll be writing about what I find interesting, and hopefully you’ll find interesting as well. So…welcome to my brain!

By the way, if you managed to read all the way to the end—all 1,300+ words, I congratulate you. Great job.

Now go do something worth doing!

Over to you: What kind of blog posts and blogs do you enjoy reading? Do you have any tips for how I (or other people!) could do this whole blogging thing better?

The Rock Stands Forever

When I got home from work today, I found out that a friend of the family who had been planning to come spend the day with us tomorrow came today instead, and brought a friend along with him. It was great to meet her, and nice to catch up with him a little.

Ocean02

The muddy color in the ocean to the top right is where a river (obviously very silty right now!) is joining the ocean.

After talking for a while this afternoon, most of the family went out to the local beach. We’ve had quite a bit of hot weather lately, so it was nice to relax and wade a little in the beautiful cool Pacific!

Ocean03

We were on the beach for 15 minutes or so, and then headed up the steep, winding hill to the lookout over the bay. This is a favorite spot for us; we’ve taken quite a few different visitors up there. It never seems to get old, though.

Ocean04

While we stood at the railing, enjoying the breeze, the sunshine, and the beauty around us, our new friend commented that these rocks have been there for a long, long time—even longer than she or I have been alive. Pondering that fact, looking at the intricately carved cliff face, reminded me of God.

“His Word lasts forever, too,” I commented as I studied the deep greens of the native bush in front of us.

Ocean01

We might come past and look at it, maybe even dig a little into it to figure out why it looks the way it does. Generations come and go, and yet His Word is always there. Unchanged, unmoved, solid as rock.

“Lots of little faces have come and stared at this rock, just like we are now,” my new friend mused. “Then they go away, but the rock stays there. And more little faces will come and look at it again.”

Through everything—storm, wind, hail, earthquake, beating sun—the rock stands.

Ocean05

Soon it was time to move on. My cousin, who was also with us, wanted to explore a track he had found there—that we had no idea was in the area, even though we’ve explored that particular beach many different times. It was a fun walk; we did a good portion of it in an hour and a half.

Ocean06

A container ship we spotted from the lookout on the track.

On the way down, the boys all went at their own speeds, most getting to the beach and changed before we got back.

Ocean08

I stopped to “smell the roses” for a bit. Except I think I forgot to actually smell them in my attempt to get a good picture.

Ocean07

All in all, it’s been a gorgeous day! God’s creation is so beautiful . . . hearing the twitters and tweets of birds singing in the native bush, the crash and roll of the waves hitting the beach, the sucking knocking sound of rocks rolling in the receding wave, the indescribable blue blue of the ocean, the beautiful piney scent as we drove under pine trees, and so many other sights and sounds and flavors that I can’t even describe. God is good. God is so, so good.

And the really amazing part? Despite all this beautiful creation, that He can enjoy every single day of every single year, He chooses to love us—who scorn His very Gift all too often.

Challenge: What is one thing you can see from where you are right now that shows His beautiful loving care? That shouts that He is in control?